The fight against racism took an historical turn in June 2020 with the global anti-racist protests supported by the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). These events shine a critical light on our society, and act as a reminder that structural racism is embedded deep in academia and its history. The STEM and Neuroscience community does not derogate to this criticism. ALBA gathered relevant resources highlighting these issues and possible solutions to improve representation and visibility of Black scientists in Neuroscience.
In the context of the worldwide protests and expressions of support to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the ALBA Network reiterates its full support and dedication to the cause. ALBA stands against racism, discrimination and inequities. You can read our statement here.
Following the BLM movement, several Scientific journals such as Cell and eLife science published position pieces committing themselves to help fight against systemic racism in science. In their article entitled “Science Has a Racism Problem”, The Cell Editorial Team lays out the racist history of science, from the exploitation of Black research subjects to the clinical data gap leading to untreated mental health issues and higher mortality rates in Black communities.
This data gap and racist bias also affect new technologies:
“Because the large databases used as training sets for machine learning are derived from our imperfect world with its many hidden, and often unintended biases, “machine learning may actually make such biases universal rather than removing them—and may make them hard to spot.” (Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Dana Foundation).
The movie CODED BIAS delves into the investigation of widespread bias in artificial intelligence following MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini’s startling discovery that many facial recognition technologies fail more often on darker-skinned faces.
Being Black in Academia
“Currently, Black Americans make up 13% of the population, but estimates by the National Center for Education Statistics of full-time faculty suggest less than 6% of faculty members are Black. And, according to the National Science Foundation, for more than a decade only about 5% of the 50,000 students earning PhDs each year are Black. What this means is that, in everyday situations, Black scientists often find themselves to be the only Black person occupying the space they are in. Leaving many feeling isolated and noting they don’t have mentors or peers with shared experiences.”(Nicole Fisher, Forbes)
In his interview with eLife, Marcus Lambert, Assistant Dean of Diversity at Weill Cornell Medicine, discusses racism in institutional structure, as shown on social media in conversations under the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory. The Twitter account @BlackInTheIvory amplifies the voices of “Blackademics” speaking out about racism in academia. To improve diversity in the scientific workforce, M. Lambert argues that institutes should go further in the implementation of initiatives than to simply attract more students from underrepresented groups.
“In my own personal experience, we don’t have enough people to go around to help with diversity work. You have an issue, you bring it to a nontenured faculty member who is a person of color, or a woman, and they have to do all the heavy lifting”,”everyone’s calling them all the time, they can’t get enough work done and you’ve already set that person up for failure.”(Prof. Anthea Butler, Inside Higher ED).
As suggested in the Science editorial letter “Dismantling systemic racism in science”, white scientist should take the responsibility to create a more inclusive and diverse scientific community through job advertising strategies to appeal to a diverse applicant pool, developing zero-tolerance and anti-racism policies in their department and recognising the achievements of diverse individuals (citation, job referral, awards nomination, etc.).
How can we act now to fight racism in brain research?
Listen to Black scientists’ experience
Watch the panel discussion “Black Lives Matter and Neuroscience: Why This Moment Matters“ that the Society for Neuroscience organised on the struggles Black Neuroscientists face in the field.
The University of Washington Molecular Engineering & Sciences graduate school organised their own panel discussions “Experiences of Black STEM in the Ivory: A call to disruptive action”. On the first day, panel discussions consisted of staff, students and faculty sharing their experiences as Black scholars and professionals in STEM. On the second day, Deans from each institution’s College of Engineering debated ways in which colleges might take action to create real change.
Increase the visibility of Black neuroscientists
The ALBA Network is a proud sponsor of Black In Neuro, a platform celebrating Black excellence in neuro-related fields. You can join the community and find mentors among their list of profiles. Their Twitter campaign #BlackInNeuroWeek (27 July-2 August 2020) was a huge success and the panel discussions organised during this event are available on their YouTube Channel. You can read more on how #BlackInNeuroWeek started and about the organisers in the Forbes article “New #BlackInNeuro Campaign Connects Bright Minds From Around The World”.
Black in Neuro organised their first virtual conference #BiNConference2020 (31 October - 4 November 2020) featuring professional development panels and workshops, mixers, data blitzes and keynote presentations. You can watch their recorded sessions on their YouTube Channel and the #BiNxNMC3 Pre-Conference sessions on their partner Neuromatch Youtube channel.
Black in Neuro promotes other Black in STEM groups on their social media. A calendar with all upcoming #BlackInX events can also be found on their website.
It is not up to underrepresented groups to educate you on their reality and the challenges they face. Take the initiative and educate yourself in order to better support them:
- What Black Scientists wants from colleagues and their institutions, Nature
- Becoming Anti-Racist: Being a better advisor, lab mate, and friend to Black colleagues, Elena Dominguez, Angeline Dukes and Autumn Ivy, PhD, MD
- Anti-racism resources of 500 Women Scientist
- Responses to 10 Common Criticisms of Anti-Racism Action in STEM, Co-authored by a collective of STEM students and graduates.
“Science has a racism problem. Scientists are problem solvers. Let’s get to it”
(The Cell Editorial team)
ALBA Network aims to raise awareness on gender and diversity issues in brain sciences. If you would like to help us increase diversity and ensure equity, get involved!
List of resources related to racism in science
- The ALBA Network BLM statement
- Black Lives Matter movement
- Black Lives Matter: A commitment from eLife
- Science Has a Racism Problem, Cell
- Mental Health Issues Facing the Black Community, Sunshine Behavioral Health
- Baked-In: How Racism is Coded into Technology, Dana Foundation
- The Souls of Black Professors, Inside Higher ED
- Dismantling systemic racism in science, Science
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, eLife interview with Marcus Lambert
- How #BlackInTheIvory put a spotlight on racism in academia, Nature Q&A
- Black Lives Matter and Neuroscience: Why This Moment Matters, Society for Neurosciences’ panel discussion
- Experiences of Black STEM in the Ivory: A Call to Disruptive Action, University of Washington Molecular Engineering & Sciences’ panel discussions
- New #BlackInNeuro Campaign Connects Bright Minds From Around The World, Forbes
- CODED BIAS
- Black in Neuro: Website, Twitter , Youtube Channel, Event Calendar
- Black in Neuro conference 2020: (selected session)
- #BiNxNMC3 Pre-Conference session, the video includes the following session: #NeuroRacism Panel (32:35-1:21:45); #NeuroRacism Journal Club (1:21:46-2:10:39).
- Neuro careers beyond academia: Facebook Reality Labs
- Applying to Programs During COVID-19
- Mentorship-Mentee Spotlight: A conversation with Bita Moghaddam, PhD and Marguerite Matthews, PhD
Keynote “From imposter to influencer: My journey to becoming BlackInNeuro”Dr. Nii Addy